Community brings Black Mountain Monster back from the depths

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

It was hard to miss the signs of recent flooding on the trails of Montreat College's Black Mountain campus on June 9. Crushed vegetation along the bank of the Swannanoa River, fallen trees and thick puddles of muck were traces of the high water that forced organizers to postpone a popular ultramarathon the prior weekend.

It turns out, as the name implies, it takes a lot more than water to stop the Black Mountain Monster, which will rise from the depths and take place on June 16 and 17, thanks to the help of dozens of volunteers who helped get the trails ready. 

The condition of the trails can be an issue for the Black Mountain Monster, which is typically held near the end of May when rain often leaves the 3.125-mile course soggy, according to the director and owner of Relentless Running Events Mike Guyer. 

"But obviously, with this kind of record rainfall and the floods, we couldn't have the race on the dates it was originally scheduled for," Guyer said. "Not only was there water in places but we really appreciate the fact that the college lets us use these trails so we couldn't have hundreds of runners out here tearing them up when they were already in that condition."

In its 11th year, the Black Mountain Monster pits ultramarathon runners against the trails and themselves, as they see how far they can run in six, 12 or 24 hours. The race attracts more runners every year, Guyer said, and this year he was expecting record participation.

"We had around 225 people set to run it on the original date this year," Guyer said. 

The race, known for its festival-like atmosphere with a "tent city" and live music, was initially set to get underway at 10 a.m. on June 2. However, much of the venue was under water on May 31 when Guyer went to survey the damage caused by flooding. 

He was forced to postpone the event for the first time, which led to around 50 runners being unable to attend. 

"A lot of people came from other states to run this race and a lot of them couldn't come for the make up," Guyer said. "But 150 is still a good crowd."

A good crowd would be an appropriate phrase to describe how many people answered Guyer's call to help work on the trails. At least 30 people showed up at Veterans Park the Saturday before the make-up date to help put the finishing touches on the trails. 

Local runner Michael Neder and his five-year-old daughter Scout were among the volunteers. Neder knows Guyer, who works in at Black Mountain running store Vertical Runner, from Wednesday night group runs. 

"I run with Mike and the group at Vertical Runner on Wednesday nights," Neder said. "I really appreciate everything they do for the local running community and I wanted to be a part of what they were doing here today."

As Neder dug a small trench to help divert water away from the course, he was joined by a group of volunteers from local boarding school Black Mountain Academy. 

Bart Smith ran in the Monster for 12 hours in 2016. He was eager to participate again this year, calling the ultramarathon a "great event." He worked with his wife Eve and volunteers Kit Hayes and Lisa Hayzlett to remove fallen trees off of a trail. 

"We all want this race to happen," said Hayes, who worked on one of the overnight aid stations during last year's race. "It's more than just a race, it's a chance for the running community to come together and have a good time."

That's exactly what will happen, according to Guyer, once runners start arriving the Friday before the Monster. However, it will be thanks to the hard work of the volunteers who helped make it happen. 

"I really have to thank the local running community and Black Mountain Academy for their help," Guyer said. "All I had to do was put the word out and they were here to help."